www.mozilla.com Weather Central
Voices
Headlines

'A tale of two countries' -9/29/2014, 9:59 AM

The last of the Willie Horton ads? -9/29/2014, 9:59 AM

Finding answers to the future of Kansas -9/28/2014, 2:20 PM

College: Where religious freedom goes to die -9/28/2014, 2:20 PM

Honoring Hammond -9/28/2014, 2:20 PM

Do statistical disparities mean injustice? -9/26/2014, 9:53 AM

World university rankings -9/26/2014, 9:52 AM

Kansas experiment -9/26/2014, 9:52 AM

Two anti-choice parties -9/25/2014, 10:03 AM

Not in the same old Kansas anymore -9/25/2014, 10:03 AM

Domestic violence -9/25/2014, 10:03 AM

Back to war we go -9/24/2014, 9:55 AM

Piling on the NFL -9/24/2014, 9:54 AM

Emma Watson looking for a few good men -9/24/2014, 9:54 AM

Renter runaround -9/23/2014, 7:32 PM

Enough is enough -9/23/2014, 9:02 AM

Life of politics in the state -9/23/2014, 9:02 AM

What is and is not child abuse -9/22/2014, 9:30 AM

Cannabis politics and research -9/22/2014, 9:30 AM

Future of The Mall -9/21/2014, 6:14 PM

Multiculturalism is a failure -9/19/2014, 9:52 AM

State education rankings -9/19/2014, 9:52 AM

Kobach gone wild -9/19/2014, 9:52 AM

Bias prevents civil discussion of education issues -9/18/2014, 9:35 AM

Immigration is American -9/18/2014, 9:35 AM

Costs to states not expanding Medicaid -9/17/2014, 10:14 AM

Medicare threats -9/17/2014, 10:12 AM

Green fields in northwest Kansas -9/17/2014, 10:12 AM

Consolidation by starvation -9/16/2014, 9:54 AM

School mergers tricky -9/16/2014, 9:54 AM

Hotel tipping -9/16/2014, 9:54 AM

Abuse video revealed nothing we didn't know -9/15/2014, 9:20 AM

Lessons from 13 years ago -9/15/2014, 9:20 AM

The zero option -9/14/2014, 1:31 PM

Why branding ISIS matters -9/14/2014, 1:31 PM

School efficiency -9/14/2014, 1:31 PM

Favors and loot for sale -9/12/2014, 10:10 AM

The 'college experience' -9/12/2014, 10:10 AM

Ellis schools -9/11/2014, 10:10 AM

Hold on, Mr. President -9/11/2014, 9:26 AM

The best bathroom -9/11/2014, 9:26 AM

The day the world stood still -9/11/2014, 9:26 AM

No one can play your part -9/9/2014, 9:55 AM

Playing candidate dress-up -9/9/2014, 9:55 AM

Congress at work -9/9/2014, 9:55 AM

Schmidt is the answer -9/9/2014, 9:55 AM

The liabilities of cannabis use -9/8/2014, 9:21 AM

Downtown decision -9/8/2014, 9:21 AM

Why are red states so far behind? -9/8/2014, 9:20 AM

Taylor's next move -9/5/2014, 10:16 AM

Consider trees to spruce up yard -9/5/2014, 10:15 AM

Washington takes action to reform VA -9/5/2014, 10:15 AM

Umbehr stands out -9/4/2014, 12:25 PM

Leadership education -- it's not a scam -9/4/2014, 12:24 PM

Not supporting Brownback's re-election -9/4/2014, 12:23 PM

A fair fair debate -9/3/2014, 9:23 AM

Suicide in today's age -9/3/2014, 9:23 AM

Regulation overreach -9/3/2014, 9:23 AM

Sharpton, Kobach's common ground -9/3/2014, 9:23 AM

In charge of all -9/3/2014, 9:23 AM

Pocket-book debate? -9/3/2014, 9:23 AM

Educating voters on education -9/2/2014, 9:33 AM

Crazy election season in Kansas -9/2/2014, 9:33 AM

An erosion of authenticity -8/31/2014, 4:39 PM

Blasphemy, free speech and the 'black mass' -8/31/2014, 4:39 PM

Labor Day -8/31/2014, 4:39 PM

Flexing muscles -8/29/2014, 10:00 AM

Blacks must confront reality -8/29/2014, 10:00 AM

The leadership scam -8/29/2014, 10:00 AM

Green monster -8/28/2014, 10:14 AM

The resurrection of Rick Perry -8/28/2014, 10:14 AM

Senate campaign -8/28/2014, 10:14 AM

Right to be heard? -8/26/2014, 10:08 AM

Over-covering Ferguson -8/26/2014, 10:07 AM

Figuring out the tax debate -8/26/2014, 10:07 AM

An obvious ploy -8/25/2014, 9:29 AM

Not-so-beautiful sunset -8/25/2014, 9:29 AM

Cannabis therapy -- Why bother? -8/25/2014, 9:29 AM

Business climate of Kansas -8/24/2014, 11:39 AM

James Foley: Courage in the face of danger -8/24/2014, 11:39 AM

Festering wound -8/24/2014, 11:39 AM

Big banks settling -8/22/2014, 10:16 AM

Tuition pays for this -8/22/2014, 10:16 AM

College textbook scam -8/22/2014, 10:16 AM

Policing a riot -8/21/2014, 9:45 AM

Evil strikes back -8/21/2014, 9:45 AM

Art appreciation -8/21/2014, 9:45 AM

Abuse of power -8/20/2014, 8:22 AM

Ferguson police arrest reporters for reporting -8/20/2014, 8:21 AM

Don't 'got milk' -8/20/2014, 8:21 AM

Another road map to success? -8/19/2014, 10:05 AM

It's the abuse of power, stupid -8/19/2014, 10:04 AM

Riots in Ferguson, and what they mean -8/18/2014, 9:57 AM

One of billions -8/18/2014, 9:57 AM

The GOP presents: Barack-nado -8/17/2014, 2:08 PM

Media and Missouri: What's going on? -8/17/2014, 2:08 PM

Answer the bell -8/15/2014, 8:58 AM

Get ready for denials -8/15/2014, 8:49 AM

Mental illness -8/15/2014, 8:49 AM

Mindless drones -8/14/2014, 9:27 AM

myTown Calendar

SPOTLIGHT
[var top_story_head]

Our elites have lost that selfless spirit

Published on -7/11/2013, 9:42 AM

Printer-friendly version
E-Mail This Story

Ten generations have come and gone since 1776. Yet the Founders still fascinate us. Books about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington still regularly dot our best-seller lists.

What so attracts us to these men of means who put their security and their considerable comfort at risk for a greater good? Maybe the contrast with what we see all around us.

Today's men of means display precious little selfless behavior. Our CEOs and bankers seem fixated -- almost totally -- on their own corporate and personal bottom lines. They don't lead the nation. They steal from it.

So who can blame the rest of us for daydreaming about a time when a significant chunk of our elite showed a real sense of responsibility to something grander than the size of their individual fortunes?

Actually, suggests University of Michigan sociologist Mark Mizruchi, we don't have to go back to 1776 to find Americans of ample means who cared about "the needs of the larger society." We had this sort of elite just a half-century ago, he argues in his new book "The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite."

Many of America's corporate leaders, Mizruchi writes, spent the years right after World War II engaged in public-spirited debate over how best to put the Great Depression behind us. These corporate leaders didn't try to gut the social safety net the New Deal created. They helped stretch this safety net even wider. They even accepted high income tax rates on big incomes -- their incomes.

Mizruchi takes care not to go overboard. The mid-20th century's corporate leaders regularly did battle with unions and other groups that spoke directly for average Americans.

But these corporate leaders also displayed "an ethic of responsibility," notes Mizruchi. They compromised. They tried to offer solutions. They behaved, on the whole, far more admirably than the union-busters, tax-dodgers, and bailout artists who rule America's biggest banks and corporations today.

What explains why our elite behaved so much better back then? One reason: Corporate leaders in the 1950s and 1960s had to share center stage with a strong labor movement. Organized labor wields much less influence today.

This weakened labor movement has allowed wealth and power to concentrate ferociously at America's economic summit. And the resulting inequality, in turn, may be the key to understanding why corporate leaders a half-century ago much more resembled the elite of 1776 than those of our own time.

In both 1776 and the mid-20th century, our most financially fortunate found themselves in relatively equal societies. On the eve of the American Revolution, new research documents, England's 13 American colonies had a much more equal distribution of income and wealth than the nations of Europe.

In the years right after World War II, the United States enjoyed a similar epoch of relative equality. CEOs in the 1950s only made 20 to 30 times what their workers made, not the 200 and 300 times more, on average, that top corporate execs routinely rake in today.

In both 1776 and 1976 America, the top 1 percent overall took under 10 percent of the nation's income. The top 1 percent share today, as economist Emmanuel Saez details, is running over double that level.

Did this relative equality of revolutionary America and America right after World War II help shape how elites interacted with their societies?

That certainly seems plausible. More equal societies, after all, have narrower gaps between those at the economic summit and everyone else. The narrower the gap in any society, the easier for all -- elite and average alike -- to feel invested in their society and share a sense of responsibility for its future.

What's the takeaway? If we want to rekindle that spirit of 1776, not just daydream about it, our course stands clear. We need to create a more equal America.

OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.

digg delicious facebook stumbleupon google Newsvine
More News and Photos

Associated Press Videos

AP Breaking News
AP Nation-World News

View this site in another language.